La panzanella is a rustic, summertime recipe from the Italian cucina povera, a style of cooking characterized by tantalizing dishes originally made by the poor and working classes from humble ingredients.  In the cucina povera, home-grown food is put to good use and no left-over is wasted.  True to that value, la panzanella was created as a way to use up bread gone stale.

Originally a Tuscan dish, la panzanella eventually spread to the Umbria, Marche and Lazio regions of central Italy, and as often happens variations emerged.  The original Tuscan recipe called for bread, red onion, basil, olive oil, wine vinegar and salt.  Tomatoes were soon added to the recipe, and over time la panzanella became known as a bread and tomato dish.

Today cucumbers are often included with the tomatoes, while not all recipes call for onions.  Finally, a notable difference exists in la panzanella as a salad with the bread broken into pieces, most common in Tuscany, in contrast to la panzanella as a whole piece of soaked bread with the tomatoes on top, sometimes referred to as la panzanella romana.

Although the bread remains whole in Stefano’s mom’s panzanella, for this post we opted for the salad version, using our home-made left over bread, tomatoes and cucumbers from the farmer’s market, red onion, and garden basil for a touch of color.

4 slices of stale bread
2 ripe tomatoes
1 medium cucumber
2 very thin slices of red onion
1 small bunch of basil
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
Olive oil

Lay the bread into a shallow pan and add cold water up to the top of the slices.  Drizzle one tablespoon of white wine vinegar over the bread, and let soak for 20 minutes.

Cut two very thin slices of red onion, and place them into a bowl of cold water to allow some of the strong flavor dissipate for 20 minutes.

In the meanwhile, cut the tomatoes and cucumber into cubes and place into a bowl.  Chop the basil and add it to the mix.  Toss with salt and mix.

Return to your bread, which will have soaked up the water and vinegar mixture.  Remove the crust, squeeze out the excess liquids, and crumble large pieces of bread into the bowl with the tomatoes, cucumbers and basil.

Drizzle olive oil over the salad, and stir well.  Refrigerate at least one hour, and serve chilled.

Wine Pairing
We drank a 2008 Italian Chardonnay by producer Giacomo Vico with the rustic and earthy panzanella.   This is a classic Chardonnay from the Langhe area of Piedmont, well-balanced with a yeasty, buttery flavor and a nice, clean finish.


Prosciutto e Melone

Hello, Friends.  We’re back!  We haven’t posted for a while because a needed back surgery sidelined Cara for the better part of last week. We are home again and after a week of hospital food, ready to get back in the kitchen.

Today for lunch we had Prosciutto e Melone, or cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto.  This is another classic Italian dish, best in summertime when melons are sweet and fragrant.  The sweetness of the cantaloupe is offset by the saltiness of the prosciutto, and you are left wondering just who was the first to realize how perfectly these two flavors go together.

Use a ripe cantaloupe and high quality prosciutto.  Ask them to cut the prosciutto thin, but not so thin that it tears easily.  Be sure that they separate each slice with plastic or specially purposed paper.

1 ripe cantaloupe
8-12 slices of prosciutto crudo

Cut your cantaloupe in half.

Scoop out the seeds from the center.  Cut each side lengthwise into 4-6 slices, depending on the size of your melon.  Use a knife to remove the rind from the melon.

Remove one slice of prosciutto from its paper backing.

Wrap the prosciutto around the center of the slice of cantaloupe and place it on a serving plate. Do the same with the remaining prosciutto and cantaloupe.  Pick then up and eat them as finger food.

We served this the classical way.  You can be inventive, however, and wrap smaller pieces of melon in prosciutto and spear them onto a skewer, or simply serve the prosciutto and canteloupe side by side with a fork and a knife.

We drank a wonderful Sicilian white wine called Insolia, produced by Cusumano.  The Insolia grape is indigenous to Sicily.  The wine has notable aromas of tropical fruit, a good minerality, and a medium acidity that enhances the saltiness of the prosciutto and the sweetness of the melon.


La Caprese

Do you remember Homer’s story The Odyssey, when Odysseus ties himself to his ship’s mast in order to not succumb to the call of the Sirens?

Reportedly, Odysseus was near the dramatic cliffs of the south coast of Isola di Capri, the fabulous isle located in Italy’s Bay of Naples, when the enchanting Sirens tried to lure him into those cliffs as they had many a sailor.

A different delicacy from that part of Italy, mozzarella di bufala, has been calling out to us lately, and unlike Odysseus we have succumbed with little restraint.

La Caprese, which takes its name from Isola di Capri is a classic dish that can be used as an appetizer or a second course.  Good mozzarella and flavorful tomatoes are a must.

Olive Oil
Ground black pepper

Slice your mozzarella 1/4″ thick.  Do the same to your tomatoes.  Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella, one overlapping  another, on a large plate.  Use a kitchen scissors to snip small pieces of basil, and sprinkle them liberally over the tomatoes and mozzarella.  Salt liberally, and grind black pepper on top.  Drizzle plenty of good extra-virgin olive on top.   Enjoy with good, crusty bread.

We paired our Caprese with a wine from the Campania region, where mozzarella di bufala is also from.   Fiano di Avellino is a white wine with a bright acidity.  The Fiano grape grows in the area’s volcanic soils, giving the wine a distinctive minerality.


Prosciutto e Mozzarella

We don’t always share our kitchen well.  Our cooking styles are different; Cara is calm and meditative, while Stefano is turbulent and inspired.  Stefano’s creations are splendid, reminiscent of his mother’s and grandmother’s kitchen.  When he is done cooking, every cabinet door is open; every pot, pan and utensil needs washing.

On weekend afternoons when the outdoors is calling, something simpler is called for.  Two simple ingredients, prosciutto and mozzarella, make a perfect lunch.  Add rustic bread, and call it a meal.

Prosciutto comes from the thigh and shoulder of the pig.  There is prosciutto crudo – uncooked, cured ham, and prosciutto cotto –  cooked ham.  Choose prosciutto crudo, which is a darker red in color, to accompany your mozzarella.  Ask at your deli counter for prosciutto that comes from Italy.  Parma and San Daniele are two good brands.  Ask for your prosciutto thinly sliced, but not so thin that it tears.  It will need to be at least 1/16th inch thick.

It is well worth finding good mozzarella for this dish.  We opted for mozzarella di bufala, which is made from the milk of the water buffalo. This delicacy from the Campania region of Italy is a larger, denser mozzarella with an earthier texture and a saltier taste.  The trademark of a good, fresh mozzarella is the milk that oozes out from its center when it is cut.

Il Panino
Enjoy your prosciutto e mozzarella with rustic bread, or make easy-to-take panini.

Next up: Stefano makes meatballs just the way his mom did, and the kitchen may never be the same.